How Your Body’s Hydration Levels Impact Your Mood and Anxiety, According to an RD

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When it comes to managing your mood and energy levels, it helps to check in with what your mind and body need to rest, recharge, and thrive. Nutrient-dense, balanced meals? Check. Hot yoga class on the books? Check. Eight-ish hours of shut-eye per night? More or less, check. Yet if your eating habits and self-care practices are pretty solid and you still struggle with mood imbalances, brain fog, and low energy, it may be time to take a closer look at your hydration habits.

To better understand how your hydration levels impact everything from fatigue and concentration to even depression and anxiety, we consulted Kim Rose, RDN, CDCES, CNSC, a registered dietitian nutritionist.

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The link between hydration and mood

“Eating is a dynamic opportunity that affects your mood,” Rose begins. (If you’ve ever experienced hanger, you likely know this fact all too well.) “But food is not the only thing that can impact your mood and mental state; your hydration status can, as well.”

Rose continues to say that "the brain is the seat of the mind, and that the mind impacts mood." And since the brain is composed of over 70 percent water, it makes sense that a dip in this percentage has the potential to influence your emotional and mental health. In fact, a 2018 study found that men who drank less than two cups of water per day had a 73 percent increased risk of depression, while women experienced a 54 percent risk increase. The researchers also noticed a “​​risky association, but not statistically significant” link to anxiety—though the correlation isn’t fully ruled out. They also reported that participants who consumed over five glasses of H2O daily had lower depression and anxiety scores compared to the two-cup group.

“Some of the symptoms of general anxiety include headaches, fatigue, and irritability,” Rose says. “Dehydration can augment headaches, and water—or a lack thereof—can impact cognition, perception, and energy levels.”

Moreover, another small study measured the impact of inadequate hydration levels on healthy young women. The researchers reported not only an increased likelihood of headache symptoms due to mild dehydration, but also negative shifts in mood, increased perception of task difficulty, and a reduced ability to concentrate.

All things considered, if you want to promote a good mood and boost your cognitive functioning, you’ll definitely want to make sure you sip up—and continue sipping up—plenty of good old H2O.

Additional signs of dehydration

While shifts in mood and dips in cognitive abilities can indicate that you need to hydrate more, there are other tell-tale signs of dehydration worth knowing. “Confusion, inability to focus, and dizziness are initial sneaky signs of dehydration that impact both the mind and mood,” Rose cautions. Further, she explains that uncharacteristic dryness of the skin, mouth, and tongue are physiological markers of dehydration.

In more extreme cases, severe dehydration poses serious risks for your physical safety. “If these signs get overlooked, dehydration may result in total unconsciousness,” she warns. To avoid getting to this point, it’s essential to hydrate consistently and to take notice when any of these signs or symptoms kick in.

So how much water do you really need?

Naturally, this question comes to mind when you’re reminded to drink up and stay hydrated. Yet for those of you who like your answers as crystal clear as a chilled glass of H2O, I’m afraid the answer isn’t so straightforward. In short: It depends.

“The desirable level of water intake varies by age, biological gender, activity level, and if you’re consuming foods with a high water content,” Rose says. While general ranges vary across sources as well, the Institute of Medicine advises that men aim for approximately 13 cups per day, whereas those who identify as women may stay adequately hydrated with nine cups.

Above all, it’s important to stay in tune with your body, be aware of any cues signaling potential dehydration, and drink accordingly.

3 RD-approved tips to boost your hydration levels *and* your mood

It’s one thing to know that you probably need to drink more water—but it’s another to put it into practice. With that said, here are Rose’s top three tips to increase your daily water intake (and actually enjoy it) while supporting your mood, cognition, energy, and overall health in the process.

1. Invest in a great water filter

To begin, it’s always a good idea to help save the oceans and limit your exposure to microplastics by skipping on single-use bottled water as much as possible. And if your tap quality isn’t ideal in terms of safety and/or taste, it’s definitely worth investing in a high-quality filtration system, such a Berkey filter. “Fun fact: Berkey removes over 200 contaminants so you know that the water you’re consuming and hydrating with is safe—meaning free of bacteria, pesticides, viruses, lead, other heavy metals, and more,” Rose says. And there's no denying that having ice cold, already-filtered water at the ready makes staying well-hydrated so much more inviting and effort-free.

2. Infuse your water

While many do love the taste of cool, crisp, plain H2O, some folks need an extra incentive to tap into the hydration station mindset. “If you find the taste of water to be boring, mix things up a bit by infusing your water with fresh fruit and herbs,” Rose suggests. Her personal go-to infusion includes cucumber, citrus, and mint, though experimentation is the name of the game here. Mix and match the fresh produce of your choice, or check out other infused water recipes for inspo. “Water with a great taste makes life easier,” Rose adds—and we all could use more ease and less stress, right?

3. Get creative to cool off

With summer in mind, Rose shares her final tip to enjoy increasing your water intake. “To cool down and remain hydrated during the hot summer months, add a pop of flavor into your ice cubes,” she suggests. “You can experiment with chamomile flower ice cubes to create a calming effect, or add your favorite berry to jazz up your beverage with the added bonus of extra energy.”

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